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Saturday 18 August 2018

'Old show-business'... but still at the top of his game

FUNNY GUY: Dara O Briain enjoys coming home for a catch-up. But the London-based comic tells Chris Wasser that he'll never get over the Garth fiasco

Dara O Briain has got a plane to catch. Worse still, this is his last interview of the day, which means he's probably sick of talking about himself.

"I am a little tired of it," he nods, taking a seat at the Fitzwilliam Hotel on Stephen's Green. "I find me a lot less interesting than you probably find me."

As it turns out, Dara is being modest. The UK's most-cherished Irish comic is in good form - chatty, friendly.

Indeed, the Wicklow native loves getting the chance to come home. Make no mistake, however, the married father-of-two lives in London - and that, he insists, is the way things are going to stay. He must miss us, all the same.

"Ah, I do," answers Dara (42), "but because I get over as often as I do, you know, that boil is lanced - that tension gets released. Also, it's quite funny to come back and try to catch up with what the hell has happened in Ireland, because it is like plunging back into a soap opera that you only watch once a year and then you go, 'Who's this person now?'.

"Entire careers come in the time that I've been out. You know, there's only the vaguest memory of Crystal Swing… these kinds of things, I occasionally get an echo of via Twitter and then I come back and it's all over."

Presenter, comic, maths geek, Dara continues to make a name for himself on British television. Mock the Week, which he presents, is now in its 13th season, and he's also had a quirky, yet well-received run of science-based puzzle shows (School of Hard Sums and Science Club).

But developing a new series for Irish television audiences? He just hasn't got the time.

"I couldn't do The Panel now any more," he says of the long-defunct comedy favourite on RTE. "I was bluffing it a bit towards the end, because I was just cramming the Sunday papers on the plane over."

According to Dara, there never was a "golden era" for comedy on Irish television. "They've always been getting grief," he says of RTE's comedic output.

Such a pity, then, that he and his former Panelists didn't reunite during the summer - they could have based an entire season on the Garth Brooks fiasco.

"Yeah, I did follow that, to be honest," he replies, "and I have never recovered from the shock that Garth Brooks was that popular in this country.

"I told a story [at the Comedy Festival] in the Iveagh Gardens about when you walk in on someone you love, and they're pleasuring themselves to something you find really repugnant?

"You don't want to judge them, but you still know, 'I can't get on board with this'? Well anyway, that's how I feel about [Ireland] and Garth Brooks. It was like, 'What? You're really into this? Oh, this will challenge our relationship. I love you, so I'll try not to judge you'."

Dara is one of the most successful Irish stand-up comics of all time. But he won't go down the arena route, opting instead for lengthy residencies.

"[Vicar Street] is a very enjoyable room to stand up and tell jokes in. I suppose I could go to the Bord Gais and halve the time. Or, I could go to the 3 Arena and try to do it all in a week, but then I wouldn't have very pleasant weekends in Dublin.

"The point isn't to find the most efficient way to deliver these jokes to the greatest number of people in the shortest amount of time. You spend months writing the bloody thing so you want to enjoy doing it.

"I don't like arenas as a place for live comedy. An intimate room just suits the sort of stand-up I do much better. I just think comedy is a thing built for intimacy - you're talking to people. It's not U2 and a there's a giant lemon opening on stage!"

TRICKY

Comedy is tricky, though. People can take you up the wrong way.

Earlier this month, some of Dara's 1.8 million Twitter followers presumed he'd made a joke about the death of Joan Rivers. He hadn't. He'd merely expressed his sorrow of her passing.

"Weirdly, you're never not gonna have somebody either misunderstand what you say or be offended by any joke. Look, I can step away from Twitter and not use it, but I quite enjoy it as a community thing," he says, admitting that he likes being well-known.

"But it's better to be well-known for something rather than just being famous in and of itself.

"I can't imagine anything more nightmarish because you get all that selfie hassle and drunken people shouting at you."

What if Dara's kids were to follow their old man into entertainment? Is it something he'd encourage?

"Yeah, I would. As long as they're doing it because they like performing. Because you'll put up with absolutely anything to get the stage time, because you want it.

"If you're doing it because you think, 'God, I can't wait to get on Mock the Week', you're absolutely in the wrong game."

But Dara's in the right game. At the very top of it, too, and still getting a kick out of telling jokes.

"I'm old show-business now," he says, before legging it to the airport. "I'll die on stage."

Dara O Briain's Crowd Tickler starts at Vicar Street on October 15. www.aikenpromotions.com

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